By Sarah Goodman
By Sarah Goodman
Rabat – The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) held an official international opening on Saturday, February 24, at the Maaden luxury compound in Marrakech. MACAAL is the first of its kind in North Africa: a nonprofit art museum that showcases not only contemporary Moroccan art but also artists from across the continent.
The same weekend, Marrakech hosted the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which debuted on the African continent after earlier iterations in London and New York. Though MACAAL launched locally in 2016, the museum’s February 24 international opening built on the momentum and crowds drawn to Marrakech for the weekend.
MACAAL was both founded and funded by Othman Lazraq and his father Alami Lazraq, a multimillionaire Moroccan property magnate and art collector. Othman Lazraq is the president of the museum, which now displays some of his family’s 2000-piece collection.
The museum also avows an ambitious education and outreach agenda. “Our mission is to disseminate, educate, and popularize art in Morocco and within the continent, namely among younger audiences. We believe that culture is a shared asset that can be an outstanding lever for development,” according to Othman Lazraq.
Tetouan-based, Los Angeles-born art historian Tina Barouti believes this is a trend across the continent, with museums such as MACAAL and the Zeit Modern Art Museum in South Africa creating “spaces by Africans to represent themselves on their own terms and soil.”
Speaking to Morocco World News, Barouti noted that Morocco is uniquely situated at a “crossroads,” and that MACAAL’s “breathtaking” architecture and ambitious education programs demonstrate the ways that Morocco is asserting itself as African.
“We are seeing Morocco value its African identity by supporting not only emerging Moroccan artists but also emerging African artists. In this climate, it’s really important for North Africa to represent itself as African.”
The Contemporary African Art Fair also held FORUM, a series of seven talks curated by Omar Berrada, a Moroccan writer, translator, and co-director of the Dar al-Mamûn library and artist residency.
“There’s been a lot of talk about Africa in Morocco in recent years, for many reasons,” said Berrada, referencing to Morocco’s 2017 decision to rejoin the African Union after a 33-year absence. “There is a serious [Moroccan] interest in reclaiming a sense of belonging on the continent, which wasn’t the case five or ten years ago.”
Morocco has begun establishing itself as a both a destination for and a cultivator of contemporary African artists. In 2014, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI opened the kingdom’s first museum of modern and contemporary art in Rabat.
However, Berrada continued, “it cannot only be based on economic investment—there needs to be cultural substance in terms of research, knowledge, and art production. For that to happen, there needs to be more presence, more exchange, more crossing of borders, until artists from all over Africa are more present here and vice-versa.”
With 900 square meters for exhibitions divided between two floors, MACAAL creates an impressive space for African artists to display their works and promote cultural exchange.
The Grand Opening also inaugurated the temporary photography exhibit “Africa is No Island,” available through August 24. It surveys works by 40 emerging and established photographers from across the continent and the wider African diaspora. As MACAAL explains, the exhibit examines “universally relevant cultural concepts of tradition, spirituality, family and the environment, within the context of modern African experiences and daily life.”
The museum captured the new exhibition and the greater international opening on Twitter: “Africa is not an island but rather a connected territory, full of possibilities.”